The (No Longer) Impossible Icelandic Words

I have plenty of memories driving to and from work this year while practicing my Pimsleur Icelandic lessons and being totally stumped at how to say a word I just heard. It didn’t matter how many times I listened to the narrator say the word—it felt impossible to repeat.

The Pimsleur Method discourages language learners from pausing lessons to look up spelling, pronunciation, etc. I understand that, but I felt like I had to adapt that approach after awhile. (Before looking up words that gave me pause, I was mispronouncing words way more than I care to admit. For example, I had been saying “eva” instead of “eða.”) Oops.

What works quite well for me with learning pronunciation is a mix of the Mango Languages app (Mango shows you how to pronounce each word, and it even has a slow pronunciation option!), the Drops app, (I love the dictionary feature to quickly review pronunciation/spelling at the same time), and Íslensk nútímamálsorðabók (aka the Icelandic Modern Language Dictionary, where a real human pronounces each word!). And if you have an Icelandic friend, you can try asking them to send you a quick audio message pronouncing a word. 😉 (That’s been quite helpful!) I also like to make a list of words I’m struggling saying and review them with my Icelandic tutor. Whatever you do, do not rely on Google Translate’s robotic Icelandic pronunciation; Google Translate is not your friend with Icelandic.

Just for fun, below are a few words I never ever thought I’d be able to say, which I can magically now pronounce. (Okay, not magically—I practiced each over and over again. Solo practice, checking with an Icelandic friend by sending annoying videos of me trying to pronounce words, and reviewing them with my Skype tutor.)

  • neðanjarðarlest (subway…which is ironic, as Iceland does not have a subway system)
  • heyrðu (hear me, tell me…this word is really a must learn in Icelandic—it’s used in all kinds of situations)
  • alltaf (always…the two Ls here together—tough!)
  • krullujárn (curling iron…the á sound followed by r is still a tough pronunciation combo for me)
  • sjö (seven…the j here sounds like “sh” occaisonally to me when some pronounce it)
  • almannatengslafyrirtæki (public relations firm…this one took me ample practice!)

It’s both humorous and motivating to see the words that I used to struggle with. 🙂

And then there are words that sound so similarly to me that I have no clue how Icelanders can tell them apart…like munnur (mouth) and munur (difference)—and mættur (arrived) and mætur (liking). I’ll try tackling those another day, I suppose. 😉



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